David Cameron talks tough over European migrants' benefits


David Cameron: ''It is too easy to be an illegal migrant in Britain''

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Europeans will have to prove they are "genuinely seeking employment" to claim UK jobless benefits for more than six months, David Cameron has said.

The prime minister said it was among measures to ensure people came to the UK "for the right reasons" after it became a "soft touch" under Labour.

But Bulgaria's UK ambassador said the UK's rules were already seen in his country as "very restrictive".

Labour warned against an "arms race on immigration rhetoric".

Migrants from the European Economic Area - the EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway - currently have to show they have a "reasonable chance" of finding a job to receive unemployment benefit for more than six months.

Downing Street said they would now face a more rigorous test to assess whether they had a "realistic prospect" of getting a job, with the ability to speak English one of the criteria.


In his speech in Ipswich, the prime minister said there were "concerns, deeply held, that some people might be able to come and take advantage of our generosity without making a proper contribution to our country".

Immigrants have been coming to Ipswich for centuries. But where once they came for work and trade, David Cameron thinks too many are coming now to claim benefits.

That is why he came to Suffolk today to set out his latest plans to dissuade all but what he called the "brightest and the best" migrants from coming here.

He and his fellow party leaders are now in a competition to see which of them can come up with the toughest policy on immigration.

The aim is to reassure voters and prevent too many of them backing UKIP.

The problem for Mr Cameron is that many of his proposals tackle only part of the problem.

The truth is that his room for manoeuvre is limited by EU freedom of movement rules.

There is also the risk that in this immigration arms race, the three largest parties cancel each out and the public end up more confused than reassured.

"These concerns are not just legitimate; they are right and it is a fundamental duty of every mainstream politician to address them."

No 10 was unable to give any figures on the scale, cost and numbers of so-called benefit tourists, although Department for Work and Pensions figures suggest 17% of working-age UK nationals claim a benefit, compared with 7% of working age non-UK nationals.

Transitional restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians working in the UK are due to be relaxed next year.

Since the countries joined the European Union in 2007, their peoples have been able to come to the UK to live and have been able to take jobs either via a work permit system, or by being self-employed, or in a variety of jobs from domestic work to seasonal agriculture.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in July 2012 there were 94,000 Romanians and 47,000 Bulgarians resident in the UK.

The end of existing controls will give those who want to work in the UK the same rights for welfare and NHS care as foreign nationals from the other 24 EU nations.

Eastern European migrants and employment, 2004-09

A8 country* migrants Native population

*Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Poland. Note: Employment rate refers to % of working-age population. Source: Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration





Employment rate





Claiming benefits or tax credits





In social housing





Mr Cameron said: "We can't stop these full transitional controls coming to an end. But what we can do, is make sure that those who come here from the EU - or further afield - do so for the right reasons: that they come here because they want to contribute to our country, not because they are drawn by the attractiveness of our benefits system, or by the opportunity to use our public services."

The prime minister added: "Under the last government immigration in this country was too high and out of control. Put simply, Britain was a soft touch."

He said immigrants in future would be "subject to full conditionality and work search requirements and you will have to show you are genuinely seeking employment - if you fail that test, you will lose your benefit".

He said: "And as a migrant, we're only going to give you six months to be a jobseeker. After that benefits will be cut off unless you really can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.

"We're going to make that assessment a real and robust one and, yes, it's going to include whether your ability to speak English is a barrier to work."

'Very concerned'

Bulgaria's London ambassador, Konstantin Dimitrov, told the BBC that trying to put figures on the number of his compatriots who might migrate when restrictions are eased was "irrelevant", as "most of the Bulgarians who wanted to find work in the UK have already done so".

He added: "Contrary to the prevalent opinion here about the UK being seen as a soft touch, your system is seen by Bulgarians as very restrictive."

Mr Dimitrov also said: "Luckily Bulgarians don't believe in sham marriages... Nobody need worry about a possible influx of undesirable Bulgarians."

In his speech, Mr Cameron said changes to health care would be introduced, with the UK getting "better" at "reciprocal charging", charging foreign governments for treatment provided to non-working overseas nationals.

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP: "We should not open up borders unconditionally to Romanians and Bulgarians"

He added that action was being taken to tackle illegal immigration, including making private landlords responsible for making sure their tenants were legally in the UK - and facing fines if it turned out they were not.

Immigrants would be kept off council house waiting lists in England for at least two years, under plans for councils to introduce a residency test.

Councils can already set their own criteria, but many do not.

Mr Cameron said: "We can not have a culture of something for nothing. New migrants should not expect to be given a home on arrival."

But the Local Government Association said it was "very concerned", and councils should decide how to meet housing need.

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, told the BBC that people "coming from outside the UK, and especially people coming from outside the European Union, are significantly less likely than British nationals, and people born here, to claim benefits".

For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "It's right to have conditions on benefits and public services for immigration. Most people who come to this country work and contribute, but there are restrictions because the system needs to be fair and seen to be fair.

"However, the government's proposals announced today seem to be very confused and are unravelling. And at the same time there was no significant action to tackle illegal immigration or labour market exploitation which we know have been getting worse.

"We won't support an arms race on immigration rhetoric, we want practical and sensible measures that make the system work."

On Friday Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg gave a speech on immigration in which he called for £1,000 deposits to be demanded for visa applicants from "high-risk" countries, with the money repaid when they leave the UK.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    When I was made redundant a few years back, I claimed JSA and after 6 months was told my entitlement to JSA would end: I could apply for a different form which I MAY be entitled to. Fortunately that week I received a new job offer so didn't have to pursue this.

    Do I take it from DC's statement that if I'd been a non-UK Citizen, I would have been entitled to go on past the 6-months?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    If you want to work in the UK, you should have the means to support yourself for a number of months, ideally, a job to go to and skills that will work for you in a country that doesn't speak your language first.
    I can't help feeling neither of the 3 main parties would care much about immigration were it not for the increasing popularity of UKIP just recently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    What a lot of xenophobic people on this. The actual numbers of imigrants coming here 'to get benefits' is almost zero. They come to work, add value, do things our own people are too lazy to contemplate and add to the social framework of the country. I do not know any farmers who require crop gatherers who think foreigners are anything other than a valuable asset.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    When I moved to Holland, I had to have an interview at the main Tax Office to get a Social Security number. In order to GET that number, I had to have a signed contract for a job, an address and proof from the local council that I was registered at that address. THEN I was allowed to pay tax on my earnings AND benefit from the system if I needed to.
    Is that so difficult to set up in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    This swing to the right to appease popular view is a disappointing sight to see from Cameron. The UK economy benefits greatly from immigration, and although controlling illegal immigration is important, Cameron is sending out negative signals to the rest of the world. What he should have said is:

    If you are skilled, talented and are ready to work honest work, apply for a visa to the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Well Cameron can't go into the next election trumpeting the economic competence of his party can he?
    He's going to have to use the other planks of Tory electoral strategy, divide and rule and some judicious xenophobia(it's not a euphemism for racism, Tories like rich people, no matter what their colour, creed or country of origin).

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    "Why shouldn't the Bulgarians come here & access our systems? Like we should let them be homeless!? .... UK is just so flippin' racist these days!"
    The old racist ploy. That didn't take long, did it?

    Perhaps they could get a house in Bulgaria

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Sounds good but how are they going to police this? We could end up spending more money implementing this than we will actually save!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    A long overdue reform, the like of which has existed in most other EU nations for some considerable time. I just cannot understand why previous governments have been so negligent as to allow the present ludicrous situation to evolve. We are like some sleeping giant awaking to realise that we are the laughing stock of Europe. An easy pushover viewed with contempt by those who desire to feed off us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Immigrants that contribute to our society, great.
    Immigrants that rely on the state, not great.

    It's not racism to stay no to immigrants who can't support themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    8. jenko

    "You have to ask why it has taken so long for any government to come to this conclusion. The timing is all to do with VOTES."

    No, I think the fact that so many Tory-controlled councils are up for re-election on 2nd May is PURELY COINCIDENTAL!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    'Scroungers', now immigrants, they'll have no scapegoats left at this rate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Can anybody explain the difference between having a "reasonable chance" and a “realistic prospect” of finding a job? All answers should be forwarded to Mr D Cameron, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Is it pure coincidence that this is happening, so soon after Eastleigh where "We're all in it together Dave" managed to come third in what was supposed to be a two horse race??

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The U.K. needs to open up more to immigration. I want Polish, Bulgarian, Pakistani and Latvian neighbors.
    We should also give them all the benefits that they need: housing, jobseekers, child benefits, the whole lot.
    If you disagree with me you are racists ladies and gentlemen.

    Just remember that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The actual numbers of Migrants claiming benefits is irrelevant, the fact that people THINK they are is more important and must be addressed. Unless a sensible dialogue about immimgration and peoples fears over is held then voters will be driven to more extreme parties and orgainisations like EDL and BNP even UKIP who potentially offer solutions but may havewider agendas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I don't want the UK to be a free-for-all nor do I want to see children begging on the streets of London (like I have witnessed in Rome and some other EU countries).
    Sadly it seems government policies swing from one extreme to the other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Copy and Paste politician, stolen idea from UKIP along with Milliband's stolen Mansion tax. Still that's what you get for having career politicians rather than people with any backbone. Who really trusts this man on Immigration, i know i don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Its depressing that it required ukip scare mongering propeganda to terrorize people on benefits (who lets be honest ukip dont care in the slightest about) into demanding that senior elected officials target minorities for popularity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    It's political posturing, but DC is right to do it.

    Immigrants should be aware they are welcome in the UK to 'Be All They Can Be' not 'Take All They Can Get'


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